Millions of heads of livestock in northern Kenya could die because of drought unless urgent action is taken to mitigate water shortages and stem the spread of disease, say officials.
La Niña weather conditions are likely to affect thousands of pastoralist households and threaten more than 22 million livestock. Displacement of families migrating in search of water, pasture and forage in northern Kenya has already been witnessed, Titus Mung’ou, spokesman for the Kenya Red Cross Society, told IRIN.
La Niña events are generally associated with drier-than-normal conditions in the eastern sector of East Africa, and wetter-than-normal conditions in the western and northern sector of the region.
In Kenya, the events are mainly affecting the North Rift Valley, east and upper eastern region, says Julius Kabubi, head of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Unit at the Kenyan Meteorological Department.
A potential disaster
The Ministry of Livestock Development announced that more than 150,000 camels, 16 million goats and six million cattle are facing death as harsh weather conditions ravage most parts of arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya.
Livestock Development Minister Mohammed Kuti said KSh1.5 billion (US$186 million) was needed to minimize losses in the affected communities who have yet to recover from recent droughts.
“We need to implement contingency intervention measures, start an immediate livestock purchase off-take programme, acquire veterinary drugs for the migrating animals and a monitoring programme,” said Kuti.
The Food Assistance Outlook Brief of December 2010 produced by the Famine and Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) announced above-average assistance needs in Kenya by June 2011.
This is due to the poor 2010 rains that will reverse the recent recovery from the 2007-2009 drought in northern and north-eastern pastoral areas, leaving pasture and water availability below average, explained Mung’ou.
Figures provided by the International Federation of the Red Cross estimate that 20 million people were affected by the dry spells in the whole Horn of Africa Region in 2009.
|Livestock owners should be exempted from paying fees for water. The government should help us|
Quantifying the damage
“As our teams are still conducting the assessment, we cannot yet quantify the human impact and costs to mitigate the effects of the expected drought to the agriculture and livestock sectors,” Mung’ou told IRIN.
An assessment by the Arid Lands Resource Management Project indicates a severe shortage of water, pasture and forage in Marsabit, Moyale and Isiolo.
According to the Early Warning Bulletin released by the project on 4 January 2011, hundreds of families from the northern pastoral areas of Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and Ukambani have already moved to southern Ethiopia as pasture in the areas is exhausted.
Schools and health centres have closed down in remote parts of Marsabit and Moyale after residents left, while water shortages have forced health workers to stop programmes at some facilities, say residents.
“Fears of conflict are high at the moment as desperate herders move away from their traditional grazing land, converging and congesting the few areas with pasture,” said Molu Sora, Arid Lands Resource Management Project co-coordinator.
“The situation has moved from an alarm level to disaster,” he said.
Sora further highlighted deaths recorded among cattle due to consumption of poisonous forage.
“We use a lot of money to get water for our animals and domestic use. Water is more expensive than food here in Marsabit, some people might die just because they cannot afford to buy water for their families or lose livestock due to lack of money,” said Wario Ndenge, a livestock owner from Marsabit.
Ndenge has 120 cattle and spends KSh360 ($4.50) per day to buy water for his livestock and KSh240 ($3) for domestic use.
“Livestock owners should be exempted from paying fees for water. The government should help us... I have sold six cattle in the past month to cater for water expenses,” he said.